“Raise your hand if you think the earth is in peril,” hike leader Tim Walsh said to my group. A row of palms shot up.
“I don’t mean to sound arrogant, like you’re all wrong and I’m right,” he said, “but Mother Earth is pretty darn resilient. We humans are her biggest pain in the butt, but if we get to be too irritating, she can wipe us out and start over. If we end the whole race in a nuclear war,” he went on, “a few millennia of spinning and it’s like we were never there. The point is that Mother Earth doesn’t need us to save her. We need to worry about saving one another.”
So began my third and final day at Wanderlust Festival in Vermont, bombastic words from the mouth of our very gentle-seeming guide. I’d signed up for a morning hike called “Listen to your Mother” (Mother Earth, get it?), and I wound up enjoying the walking meditation so much that I wanted to recount it here, so you can try it on your own. I know I’ll be using it over and over myself.
Walsh had led groups on the same hike the first two days of the festival; every day the group grew larger, and on Saturday about 30 of us stood in a ring on a grassy spot near the base of the mountain. He told us to focus gently on a spot in the distance, and then open our arms wide so that our wriggling fingers were just inside our peripheral vision. We practiced “owl eyes,” being mindful of a whole scope of sight and sound instead of just the narrow pinhole (a computer monitor, a smartphone) we home in on most of the time.
Next, he explained that our hike would lead us to an altar he’d created with his first group, a spot for quiet reflection and homage to the planet. Along the walk, we were to quiet down our brains and open up our hearts to hear whatever little gifts (a rock, a flower, a twig) called to us. Before plucking, we’d ask permission from the earth.
So we began our ascent, up the ski slope, past a pond and deep into the muddy woods. Along the way I snacked on wild strawberries and tried to divide my attention between taking in my surroundings and not losing my footing. Walsh paused and asked us what we’d noticed; he correctly guessed that the hiker who brought up the bird calls was a birder, and that the people who pointed out all the dainty flowers were gardeners. “Whatever you set your intentions on,” he said, “you bring forth.” I tried it, and surprise: I thought about butterflies, and suddenly there were a half-dozen fluttering along the path.
I picked a little clover flower that reminded me of making flower chains in the yard as a kid. The group paused on a bridge, and Walsh showed us the object he’d felt compelled to pick up: a tiny gnarled twig that looked a bit like a woman in a sun salutation pose. We closed our eyes and thought back to a memory of pure joy—remembering the sounds, the sights, the stirring feelings of that moment. Then we held our objects up near our lips and (weird as this may sound) blew on them, sending that love and elation into the little talismans.
A few minutes later, we made it down to the altar, a spot on a few flat rocks on the edge of a brook. We dropped our finds on top and Walsh lit a candle and a bit of incense and said a quick thank you to Mother Earth for all she provides.
Yes, it all sounds a little “out there” as I write it, but even if you’re not a make-an-altar, say-a-prayer kind of person, there’s definitely something to be said for marveling at nature during a walk (even if it’s just from your front door to your car). I certainly left the festival with a renewed appreciation for nature, whether it’s wowing me with its big-scale beauty or terrifying me with its electric (literally!) power.
Do you ever take nature walks? How are you soaking up the earth’s beauty this summer? Let me know in the comments!